Unsung Heroes: Thomas and Bibber to the rescue in Harpswell

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HARPSWELL — It might be a heart attack or a stroke or a fall down the stairs. It might be a car crash or a house fire. Or even the birth of a baby.

It changes from call to call throughout the year, but a response is assured. When someone in Harpswell Neck calls 911, members of the Harpswell Neck Rescue Team spring into action, alerted by the Cumberland County dispatcher.

The all-volunteer team consists of 12 emergency technicians, 13 drivers and 10 firefighters. Chief Joyce Thomas and Rescue Capt. Marolyn Bibber are two stalwart members of the team.

Thomas joined the team 30 years ago, and she has served as chief since 1997. Bibber, who joined in 1999, is a reliable go-to person, always available and eager to help.

Not every team member goes on every call. During the day, everyone gets notified. At night, two EMTs and a driver are on call. There might be no calls for two or three days, but as many as three or four on other days. Serving most calls takes at least three hours between the initial alert and a resolution.

“It seems chaotic,” Thomas explained. “But we work together to solve the problem.”

“We’re a little band of brothers, a community reaching out to a family in need,” Bibber said. “And our own families also have to be supportive.”

Thomas and Bibber note the great support they receive from the wider Harpswell community. If someone has a problem on an island, for example, word gets quickly to boat owners, and someone always offers to transport rescue team members to the island. A husband of a team member might plow out a driveway in advance of the fire truck or ambulance. If a situation requires medical help beyond the capability of team members, a paramedic from Mid Coast Hospital comes to the scene.

Running a successful volunteer rescue operation takes a significant investment of money, as well as time. The Harpswell Neck Fire and Rescue operation owns four fire trucks, each of which can cost more than $400,000; a brush truck, and an ambulance, which costs around $150,000. Rescue medical equipment also adds to the expense. The town of Harpswell provides financial support to the Harpswell Neck operation, which is supplemented by an annual appeal letter and special fundraising events run by the Fire Department Auxiliary.

The work is never boring.

“You think you’ve seen everything, and then something else comes up,” Thomas said.

Some calls are easily handled, while others tax the skills of even the most experienced volunteers.

“One woman fainted at her house and then again as she was getting into the ambulance,” Bibber recalled. “Her heart was stopping every six minutes, so we really had to do diesel juice to get to the hospital.”

But the rewards more than justify the time involved.

“It’s an honor to help someone in stress,” Bibber said. “The families realize you’re there to help their loved ones, and they’re so glad to see you. It isn’t always possible to save a life; that’s up to God. It is important, though, to be there to comfort the family, whatever the outcome.”

Thomas, who oversees the entire operation in her role as Chief, said her job is to “support everyone who’s making the calls. It’s a privilege to take care of those who are taking care of the community.”

Sidebar Elements


Harpswell Neck Rescue Chief Joyce Thomas, right, works closely with Rescue Capt. Marolyn Bibber.

Unsung Heroes

One in a series of profiles by Brunswick writer David Treadwell about people who quietly contribute to the quality of life in greater Portland. Do you know an Unsung Hero? Tell us: heroes@theforecaster.net.

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